Reads as it gets colder

Photo credit: Zac Baldwin

Labor Day weekend is so different for me this year. My son is not going back to school until the 14, so I have another whole week home with him, and usually we gather at my parents house for the final summer holiday weekend. My parents are closing on my childhood home in a week and moved out months ago, on top of the fact I’m too concerned about bringing the virus to them to gather with them where they are now. The temps are dropping and I see the trees thinking about changing color, and I am thinking about taking my son apple picking, but my personal family traditions just got turned on their head in this crazy dumpster fire year. I didn’t spend the summer sitting in camp chairs on field sidelines or taking my son to special camps.

So this is the crossover from summer so I am posting on books that sneak a toe into the darker subjects. Not hurtling us into pumpkin season. Although I may have already had a pumpkin coffee. They are an interesting mashup of books but both worth the read.

The Bone Houses, Emily Lloyd-Jones

Ryn, a teenage girl come head of family come grave digger, sets out with a wayward semi aristocratic mapmaker (Ellis) to destroy the source of everlasting life that is causing zombies to invade her land and cause all sorts of issues.  They are called Bone Houses and of course they are not so simplified as the cinematic representation of them crawling through the forest moaning “brains” every three minutes.  The reason for the everlasting life is set in a Welsh fairytale.

This was really well done.  I see calls for agents still willing to consider fairytale/folk stories as long as they are well done, preferably not well known, and I feel like I’m seeing more interest in non Western folk and fairy tales too.  There is an origin tale inside the story and I don’t know how close it is to the original fairy tale, which is good because I feel like I’m read up on the most common ones.  I listen to the Myths and Legends podcast sometimes too for story ideas and examples and I hadn’t come across this.  I read it after The Tenth Girl because it was an audible sale and I thought it would be more Gothic than it was. And I like to read on a theme, but lately YA has mostly been the theme. I really liked how the mapmaker was one of those on the fringes of the elite and how he straddled those two worlds and I liked how Ryn was headstrong and fiercely dedicated to her family. I loved the twists and turns in this book, too, and I don’t want to out those too much because the way the story unfolds is really part of the magic of the book.   And there is closure for the people who are seeking it.  Interesting, multifaceted, and well done.

Tunnel of Bones, Victoria Schwab

Cassidy Blake is a tween girl who follows her parents around the globe as they film a ghost hunting TV show. Unbeknownst to her parents, her own brush with death has afforded her the ability to see the other side of the veil, and the catacombs of Paris (and Paris in general, let’s be honest) beckon to her with its many ghosts.  She encounters one ghost, a child who is stirring up trouble and needs to be reminded of his history in order to move him on.  In order to do this she has to figure out his history with her ghost best friend and her saucy mentor before the chaos he creates kills someone.

So this is the sequel to City of Ghosts, which I also enjoyed last year, but I agree with its higher rating on Goodreads.  I loved the Scotland setting in the previous books, but having been to Paris and those very catacombs myself, Schwab wrote about it with such detail and clarity I was totally back in that city. The catacombs are such a cool setting too.  But I thought the plot was more accessible, a small child causing chaos who needs to be stopped but with the added snafu of figuring out his history. I LOVE ghost TV shows because I like dark history, and probably like ghost stories for the same reason.  This one was super fun, and I can see where it would be super scary for the middle grade audience it is intended for.   I need to read so much more of her and I know it.  I have more of her works.  This is Halloweeny because it’s ghosty, but the theme of a kid managing an ability and concealing it from her parents in exotic locales is something that could be enjoyed any time of year. But, it’s fall, so GHOSTS.

So I think I have binge read enough during these last few weeks to return to weekly posts. No one should be surprised because it’s scary fall reads time and those are my favorite bingies. I can easily fill nine/ten Sundays of fall reading posts, and I know being consistent is better for my readership. I have a few posts waiting on my drive file and I’ll probably finish another witchy book today. And I took this week off, so more reading! Get psyched!

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On that Weird Cusp of Late(r) Summer

Sunflowers were trendy when I was in high school and I liked to fancy myself a free thinker at that time, but maybe a little because we weren’t as likely to get the trendy stuff, being 45 minutes from a mall with no internet to speak of. So I wasn’t into them then. To cool for me.

But I’ve recently fallen in love with them in their own right, their vivid beauty signaling that summer is moving on. They are a crossover between summer and fall, can be seasonal for both of those times. I am begrudgingly accepting the cooler days and the sooner nights, the fall flavors starting to pop up everywhere. Not ready for a pumpkin coffee myself but I don’t begrudge those who are. I used to love fall. Now I desperately cling to any last vestiges of summer. I feel traitorous to myself that I tried Bath and Body Works new Sweater Weather scent and I LOVE it and I am wearing it in August. Not. Sweater. Weather.

In keeping with that, I am starting my fall reads with books that can be Halloweeny but can be good for any time. The classic Witch cozy mystery, of course.

Miss Spelled, Morgana Best

Amelia has a bad week.  She loses her boyfriend, her job, and is evicted all in the same week.  She’s saved by a letter telling her she has inherited her grandmother’s business, which she finds out when she arrives at her new home that it’s a bakery, and she’s hopeless in the kitchen.  Not only is it a bakery, but she finds out she has magical powers, AND someone is murdered in her new bakery.  So she has to make heads and tails of all that!

My energy levels have been inconsistent, to say the least, since the coronavirus hit us in full force, and I read this one way before witchy read time to let my brain experience the guilty pleasure of a witch cozy.  And this very much is a guilty pleasure for house chores.  I think I mopped the floor and did some gardening while I listened.  It may have been a little predictable, but that has its place.  Some of the witch books I’m reading are grave and scary, but sometimes, it’s nice just to have some magic and be a young woman just trying to find her way. I would absolutely check into another Morgana Best witch cozy.    Which is good, because combing the goodreads site it looks like there are a ton of them in the Kitchen Witch series alone.  The next one, Dizzy Spells, looks higher rated AND she has Halloween cozies in the series.  She has other series too.

Southern Magic, Amy Boyles

This one follows the same formula as Miss Spelled:  Pepper loses everything in a day only to find out she inherited a magical business from a magical grandmother she never knew, only to find out she is magical as well, complete with an unknown ability to talk to animals.  It’s a business pairing familiars to owners, and she doesn’t like animals.  She decides to sell the business in this magical Magnolia Cove but becomes a prime suspect in a murder, so is forced to stay while she solves the mystery so she can bust out of town.  It doesn’t help that the prime witness is a cat who is reluctant to speak with her about what she saw.  And of course there is a hunky police office who sounds like he might be harboring a dark secret of his own.

This one is more creative and I felt a little more fleshed out than Miss Spelled.  It follows the same formula, and that’s what mysteries do, but the business was creative with the pairing of familiars.  And I love the American South as a setting, even though I’d never be able to fit in there myself.  I’m not sure I understand the appeal, but there’s definitely a draw there.  This one is part of a developed series as well and it looks like there are at least werewolves mixed in for more paranormal fun. 

I am not ready to call this my Halloween Reads or do my usual opening to survey what’s lined up. I have definitely started the list as I do in August, but I’m not ready to make it official.

Also I had a request for a full manuscript for the first time ever!!! I sent it with joy and some crossed fingers.

Halloween Reads will start in earnest with the next post. Labor Day is the last hurrah of the summer so I can kind of swing it?

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YA Historical Fiction: Lady Janies

So, the US is kind of going to crap right now, and figuring out school this fall…what? The need for diverting reads is such.a.thing. right now.

So divert I shall!!

But first I need to note that I finished the revisions on the opening of my novel and I sent out six new queries this morning! The emotional investment in getting myself back to my novel is astronomical. But it happened, and issue my gratitude to the universe.

My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

My Lady Jane is a historical tweaking of Henry VIII throne ascension issues back in the sixteenth century.  It is about a woman who gets crowned queen for nine days after the death of her cousin, and there are rival, plotting sister queens involved, and there is tension between two groups, but instead of it being between Catholics and Protestants, it is between people who can change into animals and people who cannot.   

This is a hilarious romp into twisted history.  You don’t need to have read all about Henry VIII’s reign to be able to understand relevant events and he is thankfully dead by this time, as I have read enough about him and his crazy.  It has the teen style friendships and romances appropriate for YA.  And the changing into animals is so funny but also relevant to the plot and self actualization of the teen characters and narrators.. It’s not just a random pot stirrer.  The romance is believable.  I still don’t know how much teen girls,even educated ones, were allowed to speak their minds like Jane does without having her spirit broken back then, but teen girls now are allowed personalities, so I suppose they need to be able to relate to Lady Jane to have this book feasible.  So I get that.  And of course it’s narrated by the late incomparable Katherine Kellgren.  It’s fun, and it’s funny, and it’s so YA. I loved it.

My Plain Jane, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

So this is a retelling of Jane Eyre, and I think it was this book that drew me to the series, even though it was 2 and I read it as 2.   It is a blend of Jane Eyre, ghost hunting, and a biography of the Bronte family.   Good stuff for me, who loves Gothic novels and Jane Eyre retellings are of particular appeal.  Jane is a beacon, which is someone who attracts and can compel ghosts, and there is a society that gets rid of ghosts, and Jane lives with Charlotte Bronte at Lowood school before she goes to the Rochester home to be a governess and fall in love with Mr. Rochester.   Jane and Charlotte are besties so stay around each other in the book, even after Jane leaves school.  There is a murder to make some intrigue but it’s not the focus of the book.

I read one review on Goodreads that indicated that this plot didn’t add much to the original tale, but I thought there were a lot of changes to the original tale.  I don’t want to give away too much, but even having the Bronte family as characters changes things up, as well as ghost hunting and possession being a major part of the plot.  This is funny but not as funny as My Lady Jane, and I don’t know how it could compare anyway with the hilarity of people being able to change into animals.  But it holds true, still, to the realities faced by women back then, of not having the resources and independence of women now.  The girls are still focused on love and finding husbands, which is accurate for their time, even at the expense of independent jobs and means.  Depressing still for them. Like with Carriger’s series, you can punch up historical plots some, but there were still the realities of confining clothing and a society predicated on the oppression of women to contend with when spicing up historical plots and settings.  Jane Eyre does have a depressing end, at least to me, but it was considered romantic at one time (maybe even now, I’m not sure).  But it’s another fun retelling, twist on an original tale.  I’m always game for such things as ghosts and witches, especially mixed in with a good Gothic tale.

My Calamity Jane, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

The third in the series is set in the Wild West, America in the 1800s, with Annie Oakley as the familiar historical figure, and the main supernatural threat being werewolves. A traveling show is a cover for werewolf hunters, referred to as garou. They seek to find and destroy an alpha wolf who has a pack of violent garou under his thrall.

If this book followed an Annie Oakley or Wild Bill narrative, I wouldn’t be familiar enough to know it, like I was with Lady Jane and Plain Jane. I still enjoyed the rag tag bunch of friends who are more like chosen family, as their regular families have abandoned them or are gone. I think friendship bonds that replace family ones is a common theme for teens and young adults, and it works in this book. Also, for someone who doesn’t tend to read about werewolves, I thought the werewolf element was well done, especially since it didn’t generalize about werewolves in the same way people shouldn’t generalize about groups of others.

The best and clearest character was Calamity Jane, an orphan taken in, a survivor, rough around the edges but with a heart of gold. She wavers with her place in the world, has a chance at a second relationship with family, falls in love for the first time, but ultimately ends up on her feet. She has her vices and is a little dim, literal in ways that are uproariously funny. She’s cut out for living in a rough and tumble world that lets her get out of following the gender rules. And she’s Calamity Jane, because, like I said, girl can end up on her feet even in the most adverse circumstances.

Also, because a slightly faster pace can lead to a more comedic cadence, at least for me, I tried this sucker at 1.5 narration speed for the audiobook, which made it perfect, because the narrator also had a Western twang and emphasis. Some readers complained of the narration shift from the other two, but the other two happened in England. There needs to be a narration shift, even if the narrator of the first one hadn’t passed.

All three Janes are survivors in worlds stacked against them, and who doesn’t want to read about that? Historical outlines, written as comedies, with paranormal elements tossed in? Completely cool mashup. I want to say I wish I had read these as a teen, but I loved knowing the original stories of the first two to add more hilarious context.

So, six queries, and I have to wait two months at most for the agency asking for the most time. These have stated I will not hear from them if they are not interested, and while I understand that, the feedback from other rejections moved the project forward in ways it would not have without that feedback. Even if one place wanted to see more, I’d be heartened, with full knowledge that it’s still more likely to get rejected.

I don’t know how things will look in two months, thanks COVID, but with even one request to see more…that could really be a thing for me. Even if it’s a pass in the end.

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Historical Fiction for Summer Diversion

So this is my first late blog post maybe ever and I don’t have a good reason for it. Maybe my reason is I have been doing my home stuff, caring for the chickens, a continued pandemic win, and I feel compelled to check the veggie garden daily, which leads to weeding. But I’ve definitely been reading and for the month of July (and so sadly this is the last week) I am keeping to historical fiction, and one is YA and one is genre. But you’ll see the similarities as you read on.

Briefly, I hope everyone is staying safe in the current pandemic. Even though NY is in good shape and I got a nice taste of normal yesterday with a scout outing for my son, the rest of the country is experiencing something very different.

Drowning my brains in historical fiction has been fun.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee

Henry Montague, Monty son of an earl, is to have his come of age trip to the Continent with his childhood friend, Percy, and his sister Felicity, before Percy has to go to law school, Felicity has to go to finishing school, and Monty has to settle down into a more adult life.  Up to this point Monty has been carousing and drinking too much and is disappointed that the trip will be chaperoned and intended to be cultural and boring.  Moreover, he has a crush on Percy, who also happens to have a mother with dark skin.  All kinds of things that don’t fit in with the intended plan.  Monty makes an impulsive decision early on that throws off the intended course of the trip and they are hurtled into more adventure than they intended.

So in my historical fiction romp I needed some characters with more choices.  Granted, no youth back in the day had a lot of choices, but the roles of males were a little less restrictive, means or no. The added intrigue of Monty’s homosexuality helps with the stakes and helps with generating empathy in teen readers, much like Percy being on the fringes of society even though his aristocratic father, before he died, acknowledged him.  The subject of race is talked about too.  This book is exciting and fun. There’s alchemy, migrants, and plots.  

Monty is very well done as a main character.  He is clear with his desires, faults, and what is at stake.  I enjoyed his humor as the narrator and the exploration of his flaws and downfalls as the story goes on, and the unexpected strengths of his sister, Felicity, and how they are so different but love each other fiercely. Siblings are also so important to teens, as well as that intense, real first love, whether it fits into society or not. Some relationships are the same through time, and those are the relationships that keep us reading.  

I absolutely enjoyed this and the ending was satisfying. I might read the next in the series of Felicity’s story, but again, its hard to read historical fiction women as they have so many more restrictions. This sat on my TBR for far too long.

The Magpie Lord, KC Charles

This one starts out with a man of means, Crane, trying to commit suicide while under spirit possession and being stopped by his butler for the third time in the course of a few weeks. He finds a shaman for help, even though their families have a checkered, tangled past and they are from different social backgrounds, they go back to the family homestead to figure out the curse. It’s Victorian England and they gay men who find themselves attracted to one another, so it is a love story too, as well as the story of men trying to fit into their worlds as who they are.

This is much more genre than Gentlemen’s Guide. There is character development but not so well done as the characters in Gentlemen’s Guide, and it’s deliciously Gothic with a dark family estate drained of magical power. I know Gothic doesn’t necessarily mean magic but both? Yes. And the romance is definitely more sexually explicit, and it’s shorter, and the plot is more instant gratification than the slower burn of GG. But I like how it ends up, the twist at the very end which clearly I shall not reveal here. This would have been good for my diversion craving brain last summer, being shorter, more intense, and it’s a series in case I want more.

With both of these books, because the main characters are male, I had less of that depressive feeling at the end that involves the character either following her heart and fighting social convention or giving up what she loves to fit in. I am absolutely not saying that being homosexual in the past was any sort of easy, but these both resolved in a way I could live with. And I’d read more of both. My understanding and appreciation of genre has really grown with my focus on reading in the last few years.

In a guilty confession I have definitely broken my book buying ban because I have been opening BookRiot deal emails. It’s really the clincher to avoid those. Part of the issue is I am starting to acquire and read books for my Halloween Reads series and I get a little fast and loose there, even if I am continuing to read books off my list that didn’t make it into last year’s series. Every once in awhile I consider a beach reads/women’s fiction feature on here for the summer but I usually choose to focus on BookRiot challenges or my backlist. I’m not too good for women’s fiction or genre, we know this, but it never seems that I get into the beachy stuff.

I’ve already finished a witch book and I got the next audio of that author’s from the library I’m waiting for the third in the series I want to post on in two weeks to get off hold at the library so I can barrel through it. Audiobook secret for NY residents: You can get a NYPL library card for e and audiobooks from anywhere in NYS! It has expanded my audiobook access a little, but I definitely caved and bought three audio companions of Halloween books I already had to gear up for the series.

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YA Reads: Two More Agent Favorites

The lockdown is long and wearing on all of us.

I am counting down the weeks until I don’t have to spend the morning homeschooling my son, even though when school is done it likely means another battle over filling time in ways that is not screens all day, as I don’t think it will be safe to reopen summer camp.

I went back in to the office Friday to move some paperwork along that needed it, but it will take longer to extract myself from the pile, and it was okay to be back to the world and not giving spelling tests or helping with writing assignments.

Like I have said every post, not getting up and going straight into a workday has really helped me work on my writing as far as getting my daily bit of flash done.  However, I just got back some incredibly helpful feedback on my novel that I need to buckle down to get the head space to do, and the exhaustion of combining homeschool with work has made it hard to get right to it.  Often I need at least one entire weekend day, sometimes two, to recover.  The long weekend next weekend, when normally I’d be traveling, I will work on getting it done, and I have some agents lined up to send it off to.  The lovely agent/editor has said that she would give it a quick glance when it is finished and I want to not let too much time pass so she doesn’t forget me before I can get it back to her.  The extra time has been nice but other aspects have been draining.

Reading continues, but a little less intensely.  I may have slid in some diverting reads the first week my husband returned to work and I was homeschooling and working alone in the house.

So in developing my agent list, like I said before, I gathered up some favorites to read as examples of the genre, and these are two more.

One of Us Is Lying

One of Us is Lying, Karen McManus

A group of four students in detention witness the death of a boy who writes a gossip website and is about to reveal life changing secrets for all of them.  In a classic mystery style their stories all entangle to make each of them feasible murderers, so you’re hooked on finding out who. 

I can see where an agent would be looking for something else well written like this.  They were all contemporary, relatable stories from each child and what they did to be susceptible to the rumors.  The weird love match was even feasible based on the extensive backstory of each child.  It was compelling without having to be supernatural, which is one of my FAV things in stories, and if you read me you already know this.  I have taken some online courses in how to write mysteries but I have never plotted one out and I’d love to have created something like this.  It’s compelling without having to be flashy or high concept. 

The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon

A pair of brilliant teenagers with very different perspectives intersect for a single day. A day that they spend falling in love.  The girl is about to be deported back to Puerto Rico at the end of the day and is in a desperate, last ditch attempt to save her family from that fate.  The boy is supposed to be attending a college interview that he’s deeply ambivalent about, but he attends for the sake of what his immigrant parents want for him.

I mean, I’m not going to pretend that my book is as perfect an example of YA literature as this one.  This captures the different way kids feel about the future that seems so large and anomalous before them…some with a definite plan and others who need more time to find something.  It captures different ways to look at love and finding someone, the mixed feelings of love, anger, loyalty and betrayal from our families.  It adds the different perspectives from different cultures and how people come to find a better life, work hard, and have families here, and what kids straddling these two worlds do with that.  I have said before that I love YA that engenders empathy and the world through the eyes of others. I wonder how these books would have been consumed by me when I was in this demographic.

Because of all these important stories and perspectives this book is a bit intense. It’s under seven hours long but I took breaks from it.  You know from the outset she has less than 24 hours to save her family from deportation. You want her to win.  I was consumed by how unfair it was that her father got them in that predicament through a lifetime of selfishness and that she was the one out trying to be able to stay.  I was angry with how mean Daniel’s brother is to him because he cannot accept his own mixed heritage and Daniel is okay with it.  I am consumed by circumstances beyond both kids’ control that still affects them so deeply.

It’s brilliant. And I have not made plans to see the movie.  I’m awful at seeing the movie.

More writing for me with this forced slow down.  I’d be getting my son ready for a soccer game this morning if life was normal.  I am considering signing up for a four week writing course because it will be tiring but I don’t know when the pandemic is over when I will have time to do it later.  I know it feels like it will be forever but feelings are not facts.

Greenhouses have been allowed to open so I’ll get flowers for my garden today.

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Long TBR hangers, Both Good

Thank you, February, for packing up and leaving.  You have made me extra grateful for summer, so it’s time to go, and make a sloshy melting mud mess (ooo, alliteration) for Spring to come through.

I might get serious this year about Easter decorations.  Because, you know, I love the bunnies and pastels in addition to the poking flowers and the days that are like 40 degrees but at this time of year feel like mid-summer.

I have been working on my writing more.  Truly.  Actually going to participate in pitch madness this week on Twitter and am taking an online thing on refining my pitch!

So I have fewer reads but I still have this drive to categorize them, group them, in some way when I am putting my reviews out into the world.  This can be difficult when I am not following categories or chewing down a bunch by one author, as I spent the opening of the year doing.

So these two are books that I got forever ago and, like I have said for all my hangers-on, other books got in the way of their getting read.

 

the medea complex

The Medea Complex, Rachel Florence Roberts

A society woman finds herself unexpectedly confined to an inpatient psychiatric unit in the year 1885 with no memory of how she got there or why.  Told from the perspectives of her husband, her father, and the lead psychiatrist of the hospital as well as her own (and a few others) a story unfolds about the untimely death of an infant and a man looking to entrap a woman to get his hands on her estate.  This was researched to be historically accurate, with the treatments and attitudes of psychiatric care as well as the attitudes toward criminals and the insane. There are also characters in here that are in keeping with real historical people and events.

So I bought this book when I didn’t quite understand the self published thing, and before self published authors were careful about editing and formatting.  Once I was burned on a tiny handful of books that looked SO COOL but ended up being a mess (that I will not name of course) I noticed that this one, in the cover I had it in, was probably self pub too so as cool as it looked, it was passed over. 

Let me tell you now, it was as cool as I thought when I bought it. This current cover is not the one I have for it, so I don’t know what has happened to it since I got mine or if it actually was self pub, but now there’s an audible version, and I was hooked through it. I didn’t even get the audio version of this, I was so hooked. I wanted to know the scandal and I always like something well researched and based on real people, which I didn’t expect it to be.  The narrator kept me guessing about what the rest of story was going to be and what the intrigue was under all of it. I definitely recommend this one, especially if you have an interest in Victorian England’s social issues.  I’m somewhat not sure why I do, because I know that it was truly only a good time for rich white men.  I mean, they made ostentatious grieving into an art form, but at the root of it, it was about rich white dudes.

sandman slim.jpg

Sandman Slim, Richard Kadrey

A man returns to Earth after an eleven year stint in hell, bent on getting revenge on the circle of magician friends who banished him there and killed his girlfriend.  He ends up saving the world and the cosmos in a way only he can, and not always with the cleanest of motivations. 

This book is hilarious and gripping.  It doesn’t surprise me in the least that it is a breakout novel, because I can see where any agent or publisher would get on the hilarious language, the likeable antihero and the slow drawing out of the plot and why he is the unlikely hero he turns out to be.  I have always been drawn in by the premise. It was an audiobook I got forever ago when I was just getting into audiobooks and I wasn’t as neck deep in the reading and audiobook world as I am now. I can reach back enough to remember when I first got on audible and wasn’t sure what was good out there, but it’s becoming a rapidly fading memory.  I have some around on that list and I want to get through those, too. But this is hilarious, an absolute recommend. Especially if you like good metaphors and some funny, edgy fast talking.

This is also, not surprisingly, the beginning of a series.  So after the world saving and the big twist, you can get more of his shenanigans.

So, good luck to me in my pitch madness this week, honing my pitch to agents, crossing my fingers that it catches someone’s eye, although learning through the online course is probably even more valuable than scrolling twitter for an entire day looking for validation.

Reading still happens, though, so stay tuned in two weeks as I talk about some DNF’s that got, well, F’ed.  In a good way.  The best way possible.

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The Accidental Snow Read!

Okay, so winter came back around here.  I actually drove out to the main road last week and decided it was not clear enough and went home and remoted into work for a few hours.  Ahh, the magic.  And it’s too cold to run outside today to train properly.

I am proud to say I actually have spent more time on my writing since my last post two weeks ago and less time reading.  I had to cram it in to finish the series I read for this post last night.  It’s good to have a little more creative energy this year, even if I don’t always know where to focus it.  I’m trying to decide how much I need to revise the beginning of my novel after a critique I paid for, but I don’t feel my soul crushed over it.  And hopefully I can do this process without crushing my soul.  It’s been a dream since I was a kid, and I know that your soul is crushed more than it is uplifted when trying to get traditionally published as a writer.  I’ll keep my soul close and make sure to love on it through the process.

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The Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer

Sorry this image is huge but I didn’t want to put in the four different covers in.  I didn’t read the two additional books, Fairest or Stars Above, but I read Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter.

These four stories follow fairy tales set in a futuristic world where the moon is colonized by people who have the ability to control other’s minds and people can survive as cyborgs when their bodies would have died otherwise.  It feels like fairy tales meet the Hunger Games.

These have been sitting on my kindle FOREVER because I like a good remade fairy tale.  And they were good enough for me to get through all four in a row.  I don’t always hang in there for a series all at once, but this once was compelling enough, making it my unintended snow read, with all four of these adding up to 1,856 pages.  Other books in the running for snow read are between 700-1,000.   So I guess even in cutting down I overdid it.  Maybe I need to accept this about myself.

I loved how Meyer adjusted the tales for modern, intelligent, powerful heroines.  Cinder is a mechanic, the Rapunzel character is a hacker, Little Red Riding Hood is brazen and tough.   Snow White is a little more vulnerable but she’s lovable and perceptive, and accepts herself as she is, despite her illness.  There are the love interests but the heroines are on even footing with them and they save each other, rather that one saving the other all the time.  They are the best at what they do, be it hacking, fixing, leading.  They make those lifetime friendship bonds that you sometimes make as a teenager while having all the awkward uncertainty and mishaps of that teenagerly first love.  They are powerful characters who you remember sometimes they are still teens, and that’s where Meyer’s genius is in these books. Teens are just starting to come into their powers and talents in the world, and these characters are too, so they are relatable.  I liked watching for the parallels between the original fairy tales and her futuristic remake.  She had great solid verbs,  action packed plotlines, and levity.  Definitely worth a read.

So I should have planned out better how I would feel I read enough to add another book onto the pile.  I have only picked up one book that was on sale already on my wish list this year, Odd and the Frost Giants.  And I already had been including wishlisted books as on the TBR and fair game.  I definitely have more series to get through as well as tons of collections of short stories. I  have been picking up more writing books and I just started reading some books on reading tarot for creative vision and guidance.  I wasn’t planning on reading it, I just pulled it from the giant stack next to the nightstand on the way to basketball and got sucked in.  I always liked Tarot but I never actually read a guide from cover to cover.  Just kind of came about on it’s own.

But that’s likely another post so I am going to stop talking for now about it.

In two weeks I shall be posting again!  And writing in the middle of it, or working on my writing, or doing something about this dream of mine that requires perseverance.

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Books I Missed in 2018, Part II

The first snow has hit already.

Just a crispy little dusting but enough to make us wonder about our safety on the roads and remind us of the months ahead.  I guess I got too comfortable cleaning up storm damage on the weekends (some old trees came down in a crazy storm on Halloween night, of all nights) and standing by a bonfire.  I remember other years we were burning leaves well into December.

I am merely getting through the 8 last, darkest weeks of the year in terms of tolerating driving around in the dark every evening.

Christmas reads are duly being consumed but it’s not time just yet for such things.  I have two more books today that I missed in 2018 that I was happy to get in this year.  These novels are thick with all the things that need to be said.  Which means I took frequent breaks into genre stuff, but life is all about balance, no?

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Otessa Moshfegh

A woman of privilege around the turn of the millenia is looking to escape her feelings and participation in life by sleeping. She uses a cocktail of drugs to truly pull this off, and through an examination of her past, the reader gradually isn’t surprised why she needs this time to be alienated from an adult life that on the outside looks perfect.  She is looking for renewal once she has slept enough.

So this one was not a big priority on the missed in 2018 list, but it was on Audible sale, and routinely came up on best of the year lists, so I thought I’d give it a go.  I almost put it down after 20 minutes of listening to the absolute waste and squandering of privilege. She launches straight into how she just wastefully spends money and sleeps while barely caring for herself, throwing out expensive underwear only worn once to not do laundry, living in an expensive apartment on her inheritance and dirtying her expensive furniture beyond salvation.  Just filth and sloth and privilege and I almost couldn’t do it.

Just in time, my curiosity took over.  Before I was so turned off I DNFed a well reviewed book 20 minutes in, I started to get curious about what led this woman here, and led to her deep depression, complete with lethargy and feeling that participating in life was pointless and to be actively avoided.  I wanted to know where the author was going to take it. I also thought because of the cover it was a woman in Victorian times where I believe that sleeping all the time to deal with sadness (back then, madness?) of someone privileged could be more Gothic and dramatic.  But no, it was a woman trying to recover from her childhood, just doing it on a floating cloud of privilege. It was funny, the psychiatrist was hilarious, the art gallery too, but it was sadly commentary and true to life. It wasn’t that much of a reach for these caricatures to be believable.  And I felt sad for her friend Reva, struggling with her own feeling of pointlessness in a more common way. Reva reminded me so much of people I have met in my life who have felt empty. And then when the narrator breaks into her apartment when she is at work, I can’t get some of the images from that out of my mind.  So astute, especially on top of Reva’s history, shown through the narrator’s participation in her mother’s funeral that she would not have attended but decided to when in a haze of Ambien and woke up on the train on the way there with a suit.  

It’s my first time reading Moshfegh, and she was on my list from the accolades that Eileen got that I never got to either, and this book has been haunting me in the weeks since I read it.  Despite my crazy busy full time mom life, I come back to thinking about it in times my brain is slowed down. I think that’s a true testament to the power of her writing. She hooked me into something I initially found very off putting and then I spend weeks still thinking about it?  So powerful.

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There, there Tommy Orange

These are interwoven narratives of native Americans living in modern America, their stories and what it means to be native, culminating in an ill fated pow wow.

I hate to sum up the book I believe I saw on every best of the year list and heard it mentioned on my book blogs in one sentence, but this book really isn’t about the plot.  I think all the ones I read as something I missed in 2018 that was on best of the year lists was more about the message they convey about our culture and times, and this one was about the modern native experience in the United States.  It was one of those that has the astute observations of the world, and for me, it described the native experience, the poverty and the substance use and the trauma, through stories. It had a lot to say but through characters you grew to care about, even ones too mired in their substance use to care for their children, which is something I can have a hard time with, being a mom and working with kids.  But it reminded me that I’m privileged and so very intact in my WASP upbringing, my white religious ancestors coming over while we were still colonies and setting up shop here. And I’m imagining why it’s been listed as such an important book of the year. Good fiction nowadays finds its way to making powerful statements through stories. I suppose it always has, but I guess the definition of what is a powerful and important statement through the years has changed, hence the Pulitzer awardees not always being stories about the plight of white men and wars.  Now the books make statements on climate change, marginalized people, the absurdity of modern life.

Like everyone else, I recognize the value of this book and that it’s truly well written.  I also had to take breaks with my diversion books because this was heavy. Characters I cared about made bad choices I could understand but still didn’t want them to make.  Bad things happened to everyone. I won’t tell you I feel privileged in the fact that I can even take breaks for lighter things. But I needed my things. I’m glad I did it, but I’m also glad I’m adept at changing up my narratives so I can take breaks from the train wrecks I see coming.

Because Thanksgiving is sooo late this year I’m hoping that next week isn’t too soon for the holiday reads.  It’s 30 days out from Christmas and I am taking breaks from posting today to look at Christmas gifts for my son.   I’m not ready to deck the halls, but I’m not minding the warmup into the holiday season.

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Scary Reads! Ghosts in High School

Is it obvious that I work with children?  I would miss the rhythm of the school year if I only worked with adults.  I like the traditions and structure involved with children. I think I enjoy trick or treating more with my son than I did as I got older as a child. I certainly decorate more for Halloween and Christmas than my childless self did.  I like talking with kids about school events, holidays, and breaks.

This post is about ghosts in high school, but it deals with the settings in different ways.  In one, the protagonists/main characters are teens, and in the other, they are not.  This presents two different stories of going in between the veil in a school setting.

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Absent, Katie Williams

Paige finds herself dead after a fall from the roof of her high school.  When she dies she starts hanging out with two other ghosts bound to the school:  one a girl who also died recently at the school and another who died years ago, but also in his teen years.  Right away she finds out that students in the school believe her death to have been a suicide rather than the accident she believes it to be. She sets out to dispel this rumor by temporarily possessing friends, influencing their statements and behaviors toward this end.  Of course the story of her death is more complicated than initially believed.

Another one that I couldn’t put down.  I know I say that often, but this is the scary books part of the year and there’s a reason I got everything read before the end of August, and it’s YA and I’m shameless in my love of YA.  I love that Paige is trying to work on an age typical goal and is so believable. She still cares about her crush, a guy that liked her but didn’t want to be an official couple with her because she wasn’t cool enough just before the fateful accident. She hasn’t changed as she crossed the veil, continuing to be a sarcastic teenager who cares what people think about her and the knowledge that she will be irrelevant soon enough as they move on with their lives. Her best friend, the popular girl, her crush, and the burner are all believable players.  And she continues to learn and grow from her interactions with them, even as she is a ghost.

Other than being engaging and believable, the story has good twists and turns and I feel it deals well with the issues of teen death, particularly suicide. Lots of teens think about taking their lives, even if just in passing, and this book is frank about the implications of that and the permanence of a choice like that.  How that choice affects the survivors. Why it’s important to Paige to dispel that rumor, which ultimately leads to her discovering the truth.

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A Certain Slant of Light, Laura Whitcomb

Helen is a ghost caught in this world for reasons unbeknownst to her, her most recent host being a high school English teacher.  She finds a student suddenly noticing her in class, a student she finds out is another spirit like her (James) that has found the empty shell of a living body to be alive again. They fall in love and to be able to be together, she finds an empty teenage girl walking around to get into.  They learn about who they were as humans as well as the lives of the hapless teenagers whose bodies they have gotten into and use.

So, like I said, this ghost hangs out with a teacher but is not a teenager.  She gets into a teen body but she did not die as one, and talks about her time on this earth, cleaving to hosts, relying on living humans who don’t know she is there, people whose lives she watches but cannot participate in.  It sets her up to fall in love with the other spirit that she finds the way that she does; it’s a way to be fully alive after at least a hundred years of a strange half existence. It somewhat excuses the terrible recklessness of the spirits that affects their hosts so pervasively, but in that sense, it got a little intense in places.  I felt for the teenage hosts (Jenny and Billy), wherever their spirits were, as Helen and James turn their lives upside down without their knowledge or consent. It balanced out the places where this story was slower and sadder, and it couldn’t have just been too intense or too slow or I wouldn’t have been able to hang in there. But it was still deeply unsettling.  

It was decidedly more literary than YA in its writing and tone, and in the fact that the protagonist isn’t a teenager but an ancient being, and that I wouldn’t have been able to grasp it all as a teenager.  Certainly not in the way I could as an adult, looking at the implications of the story as much as the poetic writing. I still liked it, but because of her finding her love in a high school class, I thought the boy was mortal and I was getting into something else altogether.

While poking around Goodreads for the cover and to look at reviews I saw there is a sequel and some of the reviews have encouraged me to pick it up.  I’d like to know where Jenny and Billy’s spirits were as Helen and James drove their bodies around like stolen cars and the story speaks to that. Yes.

Next week, as we plunge deeper into fall, my posts will be about darting on the other side of the veil.  Because Halloween is about that veil thinning out, easier to slip through.  There are reads for that!!

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Scary Reads! Clandestine Magical Creatures

I just took my dog for a walk in the fall mist listening to the end of a Halloween read among the changing leaves.  I’m grateful for the chances in my life I have had to slow down.

Today’s post involves books that are a little more fun, even if they involve nefarious creatures.  I have done a lot of benevolent witches in these posts so I’m figuring that magical creatures that are not all bad is too out of the seasonal reads purview.  And some nefarious creatures but tucked into plots that are lighter.

I like how we can all make our interpretations of magical creatures as writers and project our human needs and desires onto them.  We can make them good or bad and then powers that complicate their relationships with humans.

The Stoker and Holmes series are about the female relatives of Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker fighting secret nefarious plots within the aristocracy and right under the noses of respectable 1800s Londoners.  Mina Holmes is bright, planful and socially awkward and Evaline Stoker is strong, daring, impulsive and charming. Any reader of crime books can see where these two personalities complement each other to fighting crime, but of course, they would need time to actually get along with one another.  The mysteries and intrigues in these books have a touch of the supernatural to them, with vampires being real and the threat of vampires “coming back” to London, but they were not entirely supernatural. Especially since Mina is a skeptic and Evaline is not which is another delicious source of tension between these ladies.  And there is really one main villain that drives Mina Holmes crazy who is very much a real, flesh and blood person. 

I bought all three of these audiobooks before I read a single one of them and then binged all three back to back.  Yup. Such fun stories told from two different points of view to keep it interesting by two women who were already pushing the boundaries of their lives before they were asked to go in secret service to the crown.  They already were trying to work around the confines of their clothing and roles. The confines of the traditional female dress have been emphasized in all these fictionalized historical tales featuring teenaged girls lately.  Both Mina and Evaleen complain that it is hard to run and sit and participate in their lives in the clothes they are forced to wear, and I like that detail to be added and discussed in the books. It’s not like Mina can wear yoga pants while she kills vampires.  And even though they are pushing boundaries, there are still men interested in them. They are not unattractive to men or damaged goods when they show their true selves to them, and I like that, too.  

Out of these three I don’t think I have a clear favorite.  All the plots were complex and kept me guessing and used the strengths of each girl.  And the context of London at that time in history is another level of consideration and interest. 

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Strange Practice, Vivian Shaw

Greta Helsing is a doctor to the undead in modern London.  Supernatural creatures are secret from the regular population in this book as with the Stoker and Holmes books, but an evil cult emerges that is killing both the supernatural creatures and humans.  Dr Helsing needs to band up with her supernatural friends to defeat the evil at its source.

I thought from the cover of this that it was not set in modern times, but it was.  Modern conveniences abound. Dr Helsing seems to be at the fringes of human society by dint of her profession, taken over from her father, but her supernatural friends care for her, and even though she doesn’t seem to have a traditional husband and kids, she’s still loved by friends.  Good worldbuilding with the supernatural creatures and their usual medical ailments. You wouldn’t think about how they would need medical help and it was an intriguing way to talk about all the different underground creatures living in London.    

This felt Harry Potterish to me in the way that the characters argue among themselves over whether she should deal with the threat herself and take all the danger alone but her friends insist that they will be going with her and sharing the threat as well.  I remember feeling like a lot of Harry Potter was Hermoine and Ron arguing with Harry not to go it alone, even after years into the books when Harry full well knew they wouldn’t let him go off alone. This was reminiscent. Strong theme of friendship for a woman who is used to her independence.  They do save the day, and I thought the villain was creative in the way it was done. But I won’t give more detail than that because this is not a spoiler blog! 

Stay tuned next week for ghosts chilling out in high schools!

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